Climate change professionals are rich, male and secure. Should we care?

| 19th June 2009
Dan Box
What happens when the market research on the good guys starts looking a lot like the profile of the bad guys? You breathe a sigh of relief, argues Dan Box
The results show there is a change going on

The global recession has cost millions their jobs but those working in one sector at least seem to be happy, secure and still coining it. The sector? Climate change.

The first ever survey of those pros making a living out of global warming (fighting it, not causing it) reveals them as far more likely to be male, well-educated and well-paid. I know; put it like that and it makes them sound a lot like the guys on the other side of the fence, like the oil execs. The question is, should we care?

On the one hand, these results seem to show the team being assembled to fight climate change bears more than a passing resemblance to those who caused it in the first place. For example, guess who’s pulling in the really big bucks? You got it, lawyers and market traders, with cool average of US $115,841, before their annual bonus. Surely there are better ways to spend this money?

I’d argue, no. In fact, this is pretty good news.

Firstly, the results show there is a change going on. That people are serious enough about sorting out global warming to employ others to do it and pay them what they might make working for badder, polluting firms (an average salary of $76,000 with 3% earning more than $200,000). Good. That might mean they are comparably bright and will work comparably hard.

Also promising is that most of these people work for companies (NGOs represent only 4% of those surveyed with governments employing just 5%), which means there is money to be made in fighting climate change. That’s a good thing too, it means the fight against climate change is self-sustaining, not reliant on idealism or political largesse. As an aside, there is plenty of money to be made, too; the global sustainable energy market is grew to $155 billion last year while the global carbon trade doubled to $126 billion last year and could be worth over $1 trillion in another decade. 

The survey is also a measure of how far we have come. Ten years ago, it would have been unimaginable, because there would have been too few people to answer the questions. Now, there are serious estimates that employment may rise to 2.1 million in wind, 6.3 million in solar photovoltaics and 12 million in biomass-related industries by 2030. Take a look at those numbers again. They’re huge. 

The report also throws up other interesting things. There is less of a bonus culture than you see in the wider world for one thing. And, confounding the idealist image, bonuses in the charity sector (an average annual $6800) put a heavier weight in your wallet than those enjoyed in engineering ($6300), though this may change, as engineers are arguably more useful – particularly given the vast amount of work required to update the UK National Grid alone so wind farms and other renewables can connect.

The real significance of this survey is what is left unsaid, however. Throughout, the authors have avoided referring to climate change as a ‘sector’ because, they argue, it’s much bigger than that. Today, climate change pros are found working across all sectors of the economy. Green is no longer a niche. It has arrived.

The results show there is a change going on

UPDATE: 22nd June, 2009

So, the market good guys look like the old bad guys (white, well paid), does that mean they work like them too? Er, no...turns out they might work better.
The launch of a new index of those companies doing business in what is called 'environmental markets' on the British FTSE stock-exchange means we can actually see how well these kind of companies are doing compared to those making their money in other, non-environmental markets.
In a result that surprised me at least, and I guess I'm not alone, these companies actually outperfomed the average across the FTSE by 78 per cent over the past five years. That's one hell of a result. Compared against the average of those, usually smaller, developing, companies on the (smaller) AIM index, and they outperformed again, if only by 6 per cent.


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